Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Istanbul: Music, Music Everywhere, Nor Any Place to Play

May 5, 2011
bradspurgeon

My first night in Istanbul reacquainted me with the fabulous sounds of the downtown quarters of this most musical cities of the world. Everyone talks of Phil Spector creating the so-called wall of sound, but I bet it was invented in this city that traverses Asia and Europe with a brilliant cacophony of musical mixes all splashing into each other from one café and bar and restaurant doorfront to the next throughout the night.

But if I easily found several places to play in the past, this year I fear that I am heading into a less than fabulous opportunity to find an open jam or open mic situation. The owners of the Blues Live music club where I played before told me they no longer ran their official Monday night jam, but the stage remains open when musicians and the right vibe come together. They still run a band on the weekend too. But I did not feel very positive about my own chances of getting up as last night there were only two people in the place when I was there.

But my musical journey around the world has ALWAYS been about shifts from desperation to success and ecstasy as the weekend progresses and I suddenly fall into an unforeseen musical situation. Last night, in fact, I was ostensibly invited into a bar to have a beer and play some of my music, when the man outside trying to get clients saw me with my guitar and offered that I come in and play on the stage where he had a musician already. I had the beer, but I did not end up being invited to play. Nor did I insist.

Did I ever find a wonderful vibe throughout the city, however, and mostly in the Taksim and Beyoglu areas, and down near the Galatasary Tower. In fact, I decided on several occasions to do turn my handheld, Q3 HD video recorder, as I walked down the street to show you how full this place is of music. But with on musician in almost every single restaurant and bar, I suppose that is partly why the open mic and jam session mentality is not as big here as in some other cities where musicians are less often employed….

But music just fills the air everywhere here, and it is of every style imaginable, from the Blues Live rock of the Hendrix, Clapton, John Lee Hooker and Stevie Ray Vaughan style to the local rock and the traditional and classical Turkish music. Oh, I even made a brief stop in Nardis jazz club, but elected not to pay the cover charge and go in and listen. I also found some new places with local rock and jazz. I even passed a music shop without clients where the workers were involved in a jam session, and music is so well loved that they didn’t even blink when they saw me enter and film them. My hotel receptionist upon check-in wanted to see my guitar – he being himself a guitar player.

I just keep my fingers crossed that I will finally find some place for myself to play in this music-loving city.

Letdown at BluesLive, Istanbul

May 29, 2010
bradspurgeon

I mentioned earlier that we would go to the BluesLive bar in Beyoglu on Friday and possibly Saturday. I had found this cool basement bar last year over the Internet because it appeared to have a jam session. In fact, it did have a jam session, but unfortunately that was on Mondays, when I would leave the country. But Mohammed Saad and his partner – whose name I am afraid I have forgotten or never learned – allowed me to play with the band and the band then invited me back again. It was a fabulous success.

I was excited after we dropped in on Wednesday after arrival in Istanbul and both Mohammed and his parter recognized me. She invited us to come on Friday and play a few songs before the band – called Mustang – played their first set at 10:30 PM. Vanessa had found a fabulous restaurant near the blue mosque, called, Balikci Sabahattin, where we ate a wonderful dinnner outside on the hilly terrace that was no more than a sidewalk. (The restaurant is well known as a place where the intelligentsia eat, and I can see why: The beautiful setting amongst old Istanbul houses and much greenery made it feel as if it was in the countryside, and the food was fabulous – I had sole and Vanessa had sea bass.)

So we rushed off in a taxi to BluesLive and arrived at 10:00 PM after the taxi dropped us off far from the destination and required that we walk nearly a kilometer up Istiklal Street. Upon arrival, BluesLive was empty of clients and a video showed on the screen in front of the stage with the drum set and amps. We were both really hot to play, and Vanessa suggested we set up and try the mics and sound system. But I told her this was not an open mic and that the jam was on a different day and that Mohammed and his partner were just allowing us to play out of kindness. IE, I didn’t want to push the matter with them, despite our being invited to play.

To make a long story short, the band did not start until probably 11 PM, but by then we were so tired of waiting that we finished our drinks and went to a neighboring bar to pass the time with chicha, which will probably be the last time I do it, since it is poisonous for the lungs, voice and head. We then returned to BluesLive to find the band playing, and it was not as good as last year’s. The singer had a fairly unappealing voice, although he played guitar quite well.

I had told Mohammed I had a blog now and that I had a cool Zoom Q3 video camera that I used around the world to put up videos of my musical journey on the blog. He thought it was interesting when I showed it to him. This I had shown him at around 10 PM. So finally, now that the band played, I decided to start doing a few videos. I did one of their first song, which I forget. Then I did one of a Hendrix song, “Little Wing.” I was very careful to keep out of the way of the view of any of the people watching the band – and the bar was now quite full of clients – and I took several different angles of the band, each time making sure that I did not obstruct anyone’s view in the audience.

It was now after midnight and we still had not been approached about playing, and the band was still playing. But I figured it would be good for BluesLive and good for my blog to have some video footage of the band. But when I stepped outside to the terrace to have a sip of my beer, Mohammed said, “When you take a picture, don’t go near the stage because it’s not good for the spectators.”

This was the first time I had ever had any comment made to me about my handheld camera, which is slightly bigger than a cell phone camera that people use all the time at bars to record bands. And suddenly I felt very unwelcome. Maybe it is a flaw of my character, but I simply said, “okay.” Then I asked for the bill and Mohammed told me to wait for his partner to ask for that. So I did, and then paid for the drinks. And she said, “Aren’t you going to play some music?” I said, “No.” And we left.

Temperamental? Maybe. But I did not feel welcome, and it was already after midnight – would we be there until 1 AM before we played? In any case, there is no way I will put up on this blog the videos I did of Mustang at BluesLive….

The Flashing, Many Colored, Invasion of Istanbul’s Music Scene

May 27, 2010
bradspurgeon

My ears, eyes and nose were again last night invaded by the massive sounds, colors and smells of one of my two favorite locations for a Formula One race as I arrived in Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix this weekend.

This time, however, I have the additional pleasure of revisiting my musical territory of last year with Vanessa. So last night upon our arrival I took her around to the main places where I played and sought out music last year in what was also one of my favorite locations for the musical adventure.

There is no way to describe the invasion of the senses, really, without being there. I occasionally think of it as like a trip on LSD where all your senses kind of blend in together and you’re hit from several different directions and dimensions with emotional vibes that you find hard to categorize. Walking through the Taksim area and Beyoğlu at night all the bars have different kinds of music at full volume and it blasts you from all directions and you cannot really make out the sound of any one group. Ninety percent of it is live music, and so Istanbul is a fine place to be a musician. (That sounds like Hemingway. Remember, “fine.”)

We took a walk around last year’s places, so I dropped in and said hello to Mohammed at the BluesLive bar where we were invited to play with the band – and separately – on Friday and Saturday. I’ll write more about it and the other places as we re-live them more fully. The BluesLive bar was hosting film club night last night, however, so there was no music.

We went to Molly’s Café for a while and spoke to Molly and found she had moved to bigger quarters, across the street, and she invited us to come along to the musical evening on Saturday, and perhaps place. Molly is of Canadian origin, but lived in the United States to raise a family, and then came to Istanbul to run a school – and then she started her homey café near the Galatasaray Tower.

Because last year I visited Istanbul in June the Jazz Café, off Istiklal Street, was closed for the summer. It was one of the few places that has an official, occasional, open mic. So I dropped by there hoping it would be open – but it was again closed for the summer, relocating to some beach bar somewhere.

We dropped by, walking in front, of a couple of the other bars I played last year, but I made no attempt to play in them. Walking in front of another bar in Beyoğlu, however, I found myself being solicited as I was last year to enter and play some music myself, although there was already a Turkish musician playing. I would have to buy a beer, at least, of course. The bar was empty, however, and we had much walking and tourism to do, so we elected not to go in and play at this one. I’d have done it had I been alone, but I had no qualms not doing it while preferring to discover Istanbul with Vanessa.

Finished the night by going to one of the chicha bars to do the comparison between the chichi in Paris and the chicha in Istanbul that we had planned to do since smoking the pipe in Paris a few days ago. I will not make a habit of this, as I quit smoking 20 years ago and do not want to start again, particularly not with the lung destroying chichas…. We tried an apple chicha, and it was a lot rougher than what we had in Paris. Hit me in the head immediately. We were served at the bar by a rock and roller in his 20s with long curly locks and a beard and a black T-shirt with guitar necks on it and torn denim black pants with chains. He showed me his electric guitar – as he saw I had a guitar – which was an imitation Stratocaster. I let him play my Seagull acoustic, and he loved it – as is the usual way. He then played a couple of songs for us to listen to on his portable phone with Vanessa and I each using one ear bud. It was Turkish rock music. Kind of soft metal ballads.

I also revisted two times the place where I spent a couple of hours busking last year with a gypsy off Istiklal, but I did not see him or his friends. In any case, I had no desire to start busking again. But I will always remember the beautiful voice of the gothic woman violinist named Meltem, who came that first night last year and sang a few songs and listened to mine. I remember particularly also how I discovered afterwards the sound of the birds singing along above us.

I kept the recording I did of Meltem last year and present it here for you:

Meltem sings in the streets in Istanbul

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